Sunday, July 24, 2011

Catawampus indeed

While perusing their online thesaurus, I discovered on this list of 27 words once on the cutting edge of American slang, that in some cases have been (thankfully) long-since retired.

I find lists of these old words irresistible, but then again, I enjoy reading the dictionary... Some of the words listed arguably are more exiguous than anachronous, but that's a donnybrook for another day.

Going back even further, The First English Dictionary of Slang 1699 was recently reprinted by the folks at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University after they recently discovered they had still a copy of the over three hundred year-old book.

"Originally entitled A New Dictionary of Terms, Ancient and Modern, of the Canting Crew, its aim was to educate the polite London classes in ‘canting’ – the language of thieves and ruffians – should they be unlucky enough to wander into the ‘wrong’ parts of town.

With over 4,000 entries, the dictionary contains many words which are now part of everyday parlance, such as ‘Chitchat’ and ‘Eyesore’ as well as a great many which have become obsolete, such as the delightful ‘Dandyprat’ and ‘Fizzle’.Remarkably, this landmark of English from 1699 was compiled and published anonymously, by an author who has left us only his initials – ‘B.E. Gent [gentleman]’.

Playfully highlighting similarities and contrasts between words, B.E. includes entries ranging from rogues’ cant, through terms used by sailors, labourers, and those in domestic culture, to words and phrases used by the upper classes..."

Sample Entries
  • Anglers, c. Cheats, petty Thieves, who have a Stick with a hook at the end, with which they pluck things out of Windows, Grates, &c. also those that draw in People to be cheated.

  • Arsworm, a little diminutive Fellow.

  • Buffenapper, c. a Dog-stealer, that Trades in Setters, Hounds, Spaniels, Lap, and all sorts of Dogs, Selling them at a round Rate, and himself or Partner Stealing them away the first opportunity.

  • Bumfodder, what serves to wipe the Tail.

  • Bundletail, a short Fat or squat Lass.

  • Cackling-farts, c. Eggs.

  • Dandyprat, a little puny Fellow.

  • Farting-crackers, c. Breeches.

  • Fizzle, a little or low-sounding Fart.

  • Humptey-dumptey, Ale boild with Brandy.

  • Grumbletonians, Malecontents, out of Humour with the Government, for want of a Place, or having lost one.

  • Keeping Cully, one that Maintains a Mistress, and parts with his Money very generously to her.

  • Knock down, very strong Ale or Beer.

  • Lantern-jaw’d, a very lean, thin faced Fellow.

  • Mawdlin, weepingly Drunk.

  • Mopsie, a Dowdy, or Homely Woman

  • Muddled, half Drunk.

  • Mutton-in-long-coats, Women. A Leg of Mutton in a Silk-Stocking, a Woman’s Leg.

  • One of my Cosens, a Wench

  • Pharoah, very strong Mault-Drink.

  • Princock, a pert, forward Fellow

  • Provender, c. he from whom any Money is taken on the Highway.

  • Strum, c. a Periwig. Rum-Strum, c. a long Wig; also a handsom Wench, or Strumpet.

  • Urchin, a little sorry Fellow; also a Hedgehog.

  • Willing-Tit, a little Horse that Travels chearfully.

  • Alack, alas! A real wizard manifest!

    No! not THAT sort of wizard...


    (image by Daniel Wikart at

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    Somewhere near obsession...

    Somewhere near obsession...